Issue No. 19, Winter 2016

Into Gold
Krista Ahlberg

When Sam started growing out his hair, it seemed like every inch changed the angles of his face, till by the end he didn’t look like who he had been at all.

We’d been studying together every Thursday after our last-period class, covering tables in the library with very old papers and even older books and sheaves of music I no longer knew how to read but that he said might be important. I wasn’t sure, but I liked the faraway look he got when he stared at them, like he was seeing something outside of time, something I would never understand.

I like to understand things, but I sort of liked the thought that I’d never be able to understand Sam fully, that he’d always be just a little bit beyond my reach. Because if I never got close enough to touch him, I’d never get close enough to hurt.

After two months, it was clear that his hair was growing much more quickly than could be natural. One night, when we’d been in the library for hours and the smell of the books had suffused our noses and maybe fused our brains together, or at least created a bridge between them, he told me about the dreams he had every night, of a little man who came and spun gold from his head.

I laughed and reached out and touched it, all my rules shattering in the dusty, salty air. I slid my finger under just one strand of his hair, and it did feel like gold, like the thinnest metal wire spooling in my palm.

That was when he looked into my eyes, and the book-smell fuse between us snapped and a bright light went up between us like a spark, and I knew that I’d crossed the bridge, that when I’d touched him I’d reached him after all, and now anything could happen.


Nothing happened that night, but the next weekend he came over to my apartment and I asked him if he wanted me to French braid his hair, because it kept spilling over his shoulders and across the board game we were playing, building castles and empires in an imaginary land until his hair covered them and put the whole kingdom to sleep.

He said yes and knelt in front of me where I sat on the couch, plastic game pieces pressing into his knees like penance, and my calves brushed his shoulders and my fingers brushed his temples and even though it wasn’t actually that heavy, I felt unable to move under the weight of his hair waterfalling into my lap. I’d be stuck on this couch until I became part of the room, sunk back into the walls till I was nothing more than an outline in the wallpaper to haunt future occupants. And where would Sam be then?

I braided one long braid down his back, and when I was done and reached out for the hairband I’d given him for safekeeping, he took my hand in his instead. He brought it to his mouth and put his lips against the pad of my thumb, and his breath was warm and his mouth was soft and there was a smell like wildflowers in the room. Then I forgot about the hairband, and used my other hand to tilt his chin up to me, up and up to meet my mouth, and his hair spilled back into my lap. But by that point, I couldn’t imagine moving anyway.


Kissing Sam was like a dream, like deciding to fly and finding yourself in the air, then not quite knowing what to do next. Like the slow-moving parts of drunkenness where everything seems certain and the whole world is warm, and you know exactly where you’re going and you step with such purpose, and then you discover that you’ve missed the curb and spilled yourself all over the cold, wet grass, and you’re not where you meant to be at all.

We still met on Thursday nights, and other times he would call in the middle of the afternoon or at three a.m. and ask me what I was doing, and I always seemed to wake up at the sound of his voice if I had been asleep, and I always wanted to be wherever he was.

He pressed me up against walls and led me into shadows that I wasn’t afraid of, moved his lips against mine and then held still till I could feel the vibrations at every point where our bodies connected. My hands strayed over his hips and back but always made their way to his hair, to stroke down its length and feel the reassurance of its cold smoothness, the way it had pulled me across the bridge between us again and again.  He tucked my hair behind my ears with gentle fingers, or sometimes wrapped my ponytail around his fist and held tight. But it felt lank and thin in his hands, as though his touch might burn it away.

Once, at a party, he told me that we would have to leave separately and meet up on the street outside the bar, that he didn’t want anyone to see that we were together. I didn’t like that but I did it, and once we were out there together, walking down the sidewalk past the bike racks near the union, he kept jerking his head around to look behind us, as if sure someone was following. And I forgave him immediately out of worry that something had gone terribly wrong, that he was in some kind of danger.

Or, more terrible still, worry that the fuse between us had snapped again but now there would be no spark, only darkness. That he was slipping back out of reach and this time I couldn’t use the shine of his hair in the shadows to coil him back to me. I felt like Ariadne throwing her ball of yarn into the labyrinth as hard as she could but finding nothing at the end of it.

As his hair got longer and longer, his face got thinner and thinner, like the hair was sucking nutrients from his body. Each strand glistened. His fingers grew ashy when I held them in mine. Soon I could barely touch him before he’d pull away, twisting his hands into his hair but never pulling it from his scalp. Once I thought he had pulled a single strand free, saw it spiderwebbing between his fingers. But when I looked closer I saw that it was one of my own hairs, and something about that made me angry. I wanted to untangle it from his fingers and take it back from him, keep it safe, make it mine again.

When he came over, he always left before midnight, and when I went to his place, he didn’t want me to spend the night. He would kiss my forehead in the stairwell, and after a while, it started to feel as though his lips were passing right through my head. I could feel them kissing every strand of my hair all the way down.


The last time I saw Sam, he was dissolving. He stood in his living room in a pool of his own hair, naked like Lady Godiva, and the hollows beneath his eyes gleamed dully and the overhead lamp shone through him like tracing paper, waxy and golden and melting all over the floor.

I stepped forward and he stepped back. I stopped. I knew there wasn’t anything more I could do. If I touched him now, he would twist away like a snake. If I held on, he might burn like a brand in my hands, but he wouldn’t turn back into the Sam he’d been before.

He tilted his head and looked at me, and it felt like the first time he’d looked at me in ages. Maybe since that night in my apartment, when I thought I could lift the weight of his hair for him, bind it up in braids and hold it in my hands. I realized that I had forgotten what he looked like, that until he looked at me, I hadn’t been able to picture his face, only his hands, his hair.

“It’s gone,” he said.

I reached my hands up to my head, felt the clotted smoothness of my skin. Curdled milk. Tetherballs on the playground. So light and so cold all at once.

“Yes,” I said. “I wanted to start fresh, you know?” I wanted to stop feeling his touch on my hair every time I put it up or swung my head, the way his lips scorched it ragged and his hands tugged it down. But I didn’t tell him that. “It felt like something I should do,” I said. He just kept tilting his head at me, so I said, “I’m sorry,” even though I’m not sure I really was.

“Don’t be,” he said. “You have to do what you think is right.”

I nodded at him and he nodded back, as if something had been decided. As though we’d sealed a contract, signed in blood and gold.

And then he stamped his foot hard on the floor, making the cascade of hair ripple and quake. I turned around before I could watch him disappear.

Krista Ahlberg grew up in Colorado, spent a few years in the Midwest, and now lives in New York City. She enjoys fairy tales, peppermint tea, and falling in love with (fictional) monsters.

Issue No. 19, Winter 2016

The Little Girl and the Wolf
Selva Oscura

AJ Cunder

Once upon a time, I strayed from the beaten path. I couldn’t remember why, and didn’t know exactly how it happened. Only that it seemed as though the forest itself had led me astray, calling to me through the whisper of the dying leaves withering upon the branches, crackling around me as a gust of wind lifted the dry and brittle carpet from the woodland floor, strewing it before me, hiding the ground. Selva Oscura, the natives called this part of the forest for the darkness that consumed it at nightfall. Oftentimes, they would lose their way along the path for a moment or two before stumbling across it again, the trees toying with the villagers as one dangles a thread in front of a cat.

Never before had I gotten lost, though, and my feet moved by muscle memory, my arm sweeping away a snagging branch, pushing away the underbrush. This was the right way, I was sure. I’m going the right way, I told myself as I clutched my basket closer to my breast, a withered flower wilting over the rim, the last of the year, I knew, the final remnant until the spring sun smiled upon the forest once more and the dormant buds burst from their hibernation.

Through the skeletal fingers of the trees that groped for the wisps of cloud high overhead, the orange sun sank in the western sky, its bloody light spilling through the woods as the squirrels scurried for their burrows and bowers, leaving me, in those moments as the forest melted from day into night, alone. Standing there, I looked around, straining my eyes in the dying light as I struggled to find the path. I kicked up the leaves, but found only loose dirt. I spun around, turning back, trying to retrace my steps. The trees all looked the same, an undecipherable maze. I pressed my back against a sturdy oak, the scarlet cape my grandmother had given me catching on the rough bark as I slid to its feet, its knotted, gnarled roots breaking through the crust of the ground, snarled and intertwined like a heap of vipers petrified as they prepared to overtake the world.

I gripped my scarf with weakening fingers as I tried to remember. Was this the right way? North, I knew, I had to go to reach the village, but the path twisted at one point, bending eastward to avoid a swamp in which, the legends said, a wicked witch lived who emerged from the muck to bedevil unwary travelers who missed the bend in the trail. My stomach grumbled, and my throat burned, skins and furs replacing the food in my basket after my visit to grandmother’s cottage. She had devoured the loaves of bread and pies of meat; a dribble of wine leaked from the corner of her mouth as she chewed, quivering from the tip of her whiskered chin. She made me promise to bring more the next day as she lay in bed, her fingers barely deft enough to peel back the skins of the animals caught in her traps. I tossed her a silver coin, though I never knew what she did with it, whether she hoarded them or ventured to town on occasion—her recompense for the furs I sold outside the city walls, avoiding the eyes of the watchmen and the merchants who paid their dues and taxes. A small girl, my grandmother argued, would never attract undue attention, and so she bought my services as a courier and fur trader.

My mother always warned me about the path, worried about sending me alone despite my grandmother’s reassurances, concerned that such a black business as this would corrupt me, poaching from the king’s forest. Though some said that the Selva Oscura didn’t truly belong to the king—haunted as it was by nightmares and darkness, only the devil held dominion here. And I had made the trip so many times before, never losing my way, always returning before dusk. Never before had the forest turned against me, the trees bending my memory, some familiar, some foreign, some friendly, some alien to a girl alone in the woods. They grew close together where they should have spread apart, where the trail should have sliced through the white trunks. The scent of autumn—of decaying foliage—intoxicated me, blurring my vision, my heart beat quickening as the daylight dwindled. I felt the lurk of predators awakened for their nighttime hunt prowling in the distance, my skin prickling as darkness swallowed the earth, a thin sliver of a silver moon slicing the inky veil like a harvest sickle.

Pulling my hood over my head and squeezing my arms around my chest, I shivered as fingers of cold caressed my cheek. “Little girl,” the wind seemed to whisper. “Little girl, away from home. Lost in the woods, all alone.” I plugged my ears, and my basket tumbled over in the breeze, my wilted flower swept away. I imagined my mother beside me, her arm around my shoulder, my shield against the whims of nature. But of course, she was nowhere near.

“Little girl,” a voice said more clearly from the blackness, slithering to my ear from behind the tree. I covered my face with my hands, though in truth, if I had opened my eyes, I wouldn’t have been able to see my fingers through the darkness that saturated the forest. A patch of fur brushed my arm—could it have been one of the skins from my basket?—and I squirmed, shrinking in on myself, curling into a ball as the leaves crackled around me, the fragile fragments shattered by footsteps. “Why do you recoil?” the stranger asked, his voice smooth and rich like honey. “Have you lost your way?”

Something about his tone calmed my pulse, and the words erupted from my gut like bile. “Mother told me to stay on the path, and yet the forest seems to have hidden it from me.”

“Ah, the forest,” he said, “such a cunning place. It cursed me, you know, for I did not always wear this skin.”

I slowly brought my hands away from my face. Not far away, the shiny glimmer of two yellow eyes peered back at me, though I could not discern a head or body. “What are you?” I asked.

“How can I describe what I am with mere words?” The sparkle of white teeth appeared below the eyes as the creature howled into the night.

“So you are a beast, then,” I said, beginning to realize my doom.

“I would not say beast,” he said, padding closer to me. “Animal, perhaps—but then aren’t we all?” He circled around me, his hot breath moistening my neck. “I have watched what your kinswoman does to the innocent creatures unwarily trapped outside her cottage. Ripping off their heads and skins. She has tried to catch me too, but I know the ways of men, having been a man once myself. Never has she been able to match my wits. One day, she will receive her due.”

“She’s nothing to me, you know,” I said, trying to use whatever leverage I could. “She tricked me into helping her. I don’t even want to do it.”

The moon suddenly seemed to brighten, a shaft of light piercing the patchy foliage to land upon the wolf eyeing his dinner. He was large, though scrawny, his snout long and pointed, his ears broad and cocked, his fur scraggly and matted, his eyes large and bright.

“Are you going to eat me?” I asked, preferring to know my fate rather than guess at it blindly.

“What need have I to eat one such as yourself?” His lips curled in a grin. “I’ve had my fill of flesh and blood this night. I would much rather play a game with you—a riddle, I’ll call it. If you should win, I will help you find your way. But should you lose, you must remain here in the woods as my companion until your death. What say you to this bargain?”

My mind reeled. What choice did I have? Could I refuse, and hope to wait out the night until the sun rose again? But even with the aid of daylight, would I be able to find the path I had lost during the twilight? Could I trust this wolf? If he had wanted to harm me, surely he would have done so by now. But I had not yet angered him. If I refused his offer, surely such cordialities would end. “Very well,” I answered finally. “I accept your proposal.”

“Then answer me this, little girl: If I tell you this statement I speak is a lie, is it true or is it false? Give your answer and give it quick—you have until I round this tree three times.”

“But there was no agreement as to how much time I would have!” I cried.

The wolf warmed my face with his breath, filling my nose with the stench of fresh death. “Such an easy answer, either one or the other, why should you need more time than that? Guess, if you must.” He began his walk—thankfully at an easy pace—around the perimeter of my earthen pillar.

If I tell you this statement I speak is a lie, is it true or is it false?

Could it be true? But if it were true, then it must be a lie. And if it were a lie, then it must be false. But if it were false, then it wouldn’t be a lie which would make it true. What was this wolf’s game? My heart suddenly crashed against my chest as my hands tightened into fists. The hairs prickled on the back of my neck as an idea percolated in my head, the wolf completing his second circle around the tree. “Little girl, little girl,” he sang, “thinking hard upon the ground. Quickly think and reason quickly, for your time is running out.”

My sweat cold upon my brow, I said, “You only ask me this question because you do not know the answer yourself. You need a little girl to solve the riddle for you.”

The wolf paused, his tail swishing from side to side. “You think such an insult as yours will somehow trick me and allow you to escape the conundrum in which you’ve found yourself?” He inched closer. “Does this mean the answer eludes you? Shall I take you now to my den as the loser of our game?”

I sighed, as if every mote of hope had left my body. “I suppose I have no choice but to go.”

His giddy snarl sounded almost like laughter. “Then put a hand on my back, and stay beside me.”

With a tremble, I grasped a handful of his wet fur as he stepped into the forest, my basket left behind along with my grandmother’s poached trappings.

The hoots of owls accompanied us as we crossed through the darkness that clung to the woods—a blackness so complete it stifled my very breath. I stumbled, once, nearly tripping over a loose rock, but the wolf paused, letting me steady myself upon his back.

“Where are we going?” I asked, trying to gain some sense of direction.

“Did you not listen when I told you?”

North, south, east, west—my attempts were useless as a broken compass, my orientation as misguided as a spinning top. “Your den, I know. But where is it?”

A wretched cry tore through the night, and the wolf stopped. I felt his body tense, and I could imagine his ears bristling. “What is it?” I asked, crouching beside him.

I heard him smelling the air, sharp, quick intakes of breath. “Remain here,” he commanded. “Wait for my return.”

“Where are you going? Do not leave me!”

“You have no power over me, girl, save for what I give you. Do not presume to tell me what to do.” He soundlessly slunk off, padding in the direction of the woeful moan. Moments later, a throaty gurgle filled the air, the final wail of a dying animal.

It seemed as though half the night passed as I waited, though in truth it was likely just a brief span. When the wolf returned, and I reached for his back, my fingers brushed his wet and sticky mouth. I knew, then, what he had done. “I thought you already had your fill of flesh and blood.”

“I cannot pass upon a good opportunity. I will not lie, I feasted upon a crippled deer, her leg already broken—she would have died anyway. But enough. Come. We cannot waste the night.”

My stomach grumbled, but from hunger or fear I knew not. As we walked, I thought about the wolf’s riddle, still puzzling over it. I thought and thought, trying to work through the logic, until the sun began to fill the sky with smoky light, and we crossed into marshy ground half-frozen by the night’s frost. “Are you taking me to the swamp?” I said as my heart jumped to my throat. “Are you giving me to the witch?”

“Are you that foolish to believe in such legends?” the wolf mocked, snickering. “Only creatures of the forest frequent these parts.” Sheets of frozen water covered the ground like glass, and the wolf took me delicately around these, staying on solid paths until we reached a hollow at the base of a dead tree. The black hole gaped like a hungry mouth in the autumnal hillside, and the wolf nudged me toward it.

“Is there any light in there?” I asked before I realized how silly such a question must sound.

“Why don’t you sleep, girl? You must be tired.” He pushed me to the edge of the burrow, loose threads of roots hanging from its ceiling like the hair of an old hag. I tried to resist, to back away, but my feet slipped on the slick ground, the leaves coated with a layer of frost. The wolf pressed his snout against the small of my back, and I tumbled into the den, a shower of dirt covering my face. His silhouette filled the irregular circle of gray light above me for a moment, and then he disappeared, leaving me alone in the small, empty space.

All the while, the riddle tickled the back of my thoughts—If this statement I speak is a lie, is it true or is it false? I crawled up the slope of dirt, muddying my once scarlet cloak until it was no longer recognizable. I found the sun through the bony fingers of the trees—their leaves falling ever more rapidly, plucked from the branches by even the slightest breath of wind—and tracked it westward across the sky. The marsh extended north and eastward from the base of the hill atop which the wolf’s den was situated, without any discernible path. Although, if I skirted the edge of the swamp and passed its easternmost reaches, I could then turn north and should, eventually, come to the forest’s border and the grasslands that separated it from my village.

I knew that I must take advantage of the opportunity the wolf had given me. I didn’t know when he would next leave me alone, or even how long I’d have before he came back. My suspicions worked against me, though—why had he left? Did he not think I would try to escape? Perhaps he believed I would be too afraid to brave the forest myself, that I would lose myself in the woods and die of starvation or cold. These possibilities were very real, and haunted me, too. But I would not let myself succumb to them. I would have rather died free than live as this wolf’s captive.

And so I sprang from the burrow, slid down the rocky hillside, kept the marsh to my left and ran through the trees, through the leaves decaying on the ground, worried that each crunch my boots made would rouse the wolf from his current preoccupations and bring him down upon me, his claws ripping into my back, his teeth sinking into my throat. The mud of the swamp threatened to swallow my feet as it sucked at my boots, each wet thwuck a reminder that I must remain as silent as possible. I found what I imagined to be the remnants of a woodland trail, a beaten path through the trees, and my heart skipped a beat. Could I have found my escape route? I ran faster, always making sure to keep the swamp to my left and the sun before me.

What happened next, I’ve often thought back on, wondering if, had I responded differently, somehow I could’ve changed my fate. But then, I’ve often wondered if what I saw was simply a combination of hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, and a weakened mind. Because, surely, the girl couldn’t have been real, when she jumped across the path, holding her hands up, her hair braided but dirty, her youthful face marked by what appeared to be soot, and her fingers soiled by candy sugar. She couldn’t have been much younger than I was, and her eyes were wide with fright or amazement at finding another human in such desolate reaches of the woods.

“My…my brother,” she stammered, pointing in the direction from which she had come. “Please. Please help us!”

I blinked, but the girl refused to disappear. “Who are you?” I asked, stepping towards her.

“Come quickly, please. He’s locked in a cage. You have to help him!”

“What are you talking about? What’s your name?”

“Please, we haven’t any time!” She wrung her hands, wiping them on her apron. “Will you help us?”

“Where…where is he?” I scolded myself for entertaining this apparition, but curiosity got the better of me.

“This way!” she said, her face brightening as she stepped off the path into the woods—south, in a direction that would certainly cost me precious time and at worst return me to the clutches of the wolf.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I really must go the other way, though. My grandmother’s sick, you see, and I must tend to her.” I bit my lip as the lie rolled off my tongue. “I’m sorry… I’ll send help once I reach the village.” I knew I wouldn’t, though.

Her face darkened, and she flitted off without saying more, vanishing among the trees like a waif.

I paused for a moment, pondering whether I should pursue her and see whether her claim of an imprisoned brother held any merit, but then I reasoned that it was probably just my own visions and delusions playing tricks on me and that the risks involved in leaving the path would outweigh any aid I could offer this strange little girl, being just a girl myself. If a woodsman—for I could only imagine such an adult frequenting these parts—had trapped her brother, then nothing I could do would set him free. He would just have to resign himself to his fate.

I ran again along the path, but not so quickly as before. My mind kept returning to the girl, wondering who she could be—if she really did exist outside of my mind—and when I once more took note of my surroundings, I nearly ran headlong into a tree. The wolf’s burrow gaped open before me, and I collapsed to my knees in the muck, brown mud coating my hands, my arms, my legs, my feet. How had I gotten turned around? No, how had I managed to go in a complete circle, when I made sure to keep the swamp always to my left and the sun in front? For I was still facing east, the sun ahead of me though now higher in the sky. Could the strange girl in the woods have had something to do with it?

I wiped my arms but only smeared the muck. Resigned to my newfound coat, I once again set out upon the narrow trail, the woodland creatures hissing at me from their vantage among the waving treetops. I licked my lips, throwing sidelong glances to my left, making sure the sun was still in front of me. Once I felt that I had regained my bearings, I quickened my pace, hoping to avoid any future encounters with the pitiful girl. I passed the area where I had seen her, and my chest just began to relax when a sudden rustle of leaves overhead stopped me mid-stride—a sudden voice calling out, “Little girl!”

At first, I thought the wolf had discovered my escape and was now about to recapture me, but the voice sounded different. Younger. A girl’s voice. I looked up and noticed a pair of human feet kicking from the side of a branch, a young girl sitting above me and peering down with a sallow face, her hollow eyes surrounded by dark circles, though her skin was pale as a cold moon. A different girl than the one I had seen earlier. “Little girl,” she called again. “Have you lost your way in the woods?”

“Why do you call me ‘little girl’ when you are but a girl yourself?” I answered, relaxing slightly but still alert for any of the wolf’s tricks.

“In appearance I may seem young, but if you knew how many seasons I’ve passed within this forest, you would call me a woman.” Her voice sounded as light as snow, her body delicate as a leaf. I was afraid a sudden gust would knock her from her perch and send her tumbling to the ground.

“I’m sorry, but I haven’t time to chat. There’s a wolf who’s after me, you see. If I don’t reach the edge of the forest, he’s going to make me his dinner.”

The girl on the branch only laughed and swung her feet more vigorously, shaking her jet black hair entangled with sticks and leaves. “Little girls should not tell lies,” she said, her dark eyes peering through me as though to my very soul. “A lie is what trapped me here. When I was a living girl, lost in the woods, fleeing my stepmother. I asked a huntsman for directions, and he answered me with a question of his own. ‘Which way do you think you should go?’ he asked me. And when I pointed, he simply nodded and said, ‘Yes, that’s the way. Now run off, I can’t be bothered by the likes of you. If I don’t return with the lungs and liver of this boar before sundown I’ll lose the coin I’ve been promised by the Queen!’ Those were his words, but they were a lie. The direction in which I had pointed was not the way I needed to go. The direction in which he sent me led me to this very swamp where I’ve remained ever since.”

Her story intrigued me, but, convinced that she was yet another apparition from hunger and thirst, I told her I had to go, for I too had to find the edge of the forest. “Do you know the way?” I asked, on the chance that she might offer assistance.

But she merely laughed, all the while kicking her feet, and replied that no one could show me now. “The huntsman received his due, and so shall you,” she kept repeating in a whimsical, sing-song trill, nearly a heathen chant that seemed to echo and follow me even as I ran, preoccupying my thoughts and haunting my memories.

When my legs began to fatigue, I again looked to see if I had passed the swamp and, for a second time, I had somehow returned to the wolf’s den! But how? I had been so careful to keep track of my direction. Only after the girl appeared, when my mind slipped and drifted to other things, did the forest lead me astray. I tore at my hair, scratched at my blackened skin, rolled in the dirt, rent my garments, wailed without a care for whether or not it would bring the wolf. I crawled to the burrow as the air chilled, the sun sinking, the muddy coat on my body keeping me warmer, at least, than bare skin. In the recesses of the den, I curled into a ball, hugging my knees to my chest and rocking back and forth. I thought I would cry, but no tears left my eyes, my insides dry and shriveled.

Where could this wolf be? This man who wasn’t a man, a beast who wasn’t a beast, an animal on the outside, a man on the inside, both human and creature at the same time. Both human and creature, neither one nor the other. Or perhaps both? Two natures in one vessel. Could that be the answer to the wolf’s impossible riddle? A statement both true and false at the same time?

My mind grew muddy as the answer became clearer. Ravenous hunger consumed me from within, and I thrashed in the dirt, gnashing my teeth. My stomach’s growl bubbled up from my gut and sputtered from my mouth like a beast’s snarl. If I didn’t find food soon, I feared that I would lose any shreds of sanity that remained. An owl’s hoot made me think, for a moment, that I could hunt the creature and feast on it for my supper. But the thought was so fleeting, gone like the warmth of day as night overcame the forest. If only I had saved some of the bread I had brought to grandmother. If only her cottage were nearby, I could enjoy a meal and a fire and find the path home again. If only…

“Little girl!” the wolf called out from the mouth of the den, slick as molasses. “Have you slept at all?”

“Where did you go?” I asked, my voice hoarse.

“What business is that of yours?” he answered, pacing back and forth before skidding down into the den, stooping over me, nuzzling my body as he sniffed, as though he wasn’t sure if it was actually me. “Have you been in the forest?” he said. “Your scent is different.”

“From the mud,” I suggested, scratching at my arms, pulling at the thick muck that had caked to the hairs on my skin.

The moon was brighter tonight, spilling into the burrow. I could see the wolf as he watched me—grinning, if I didn’t know better. His shoulder blades poked through the flesh of his back as he looked down at me, a dribble of saliva stretching from his mouth. He looked as hungry as I felt, and if I were in his place, I couldn’t say I wouldn’t eat the girl before me. But for some reason he didn’t. Only watched, unblinkingly.

“We will join together, now. You are my companion until death; your word is your bond. And we will hunt this night as one.”

Wetting my lips, I said, “I’ve discovered the answer to your riddle. So I am no longer obliged to remain here.”

He snorted. “Your time to answer has long since run out.”

“But you’re wrong,” I said, gathering courage even as tremors racked my body. Sweat dripped from my hands and trickled down the soles of my feet. “You said that I had until you circled that tree three times. You never did. You only circled it twice, and now I’ve realized the answer to your riddle, so you must abide by our agreement.”

The wolf snarled, baring his teeth as he crouched. He snapped at my face and whipped his head side to side. “So you think you’re clever, do you? Very well. Give your answer, and we’ll see if it’s correct.”

My throat nearly closed and sealed the words in my chest, but with a deep breath I said, “If you tell me your statement is a lie, then it’s both true and false at the same time. That is my answer.”

The wolf licked his lips, his body quivering. I could smell his fury like the musk of deer, as clear as I could smell the wet earth, or the woodland animal scavenging outside the burrow, his scent sharp and potent. Quietly—I braced myself for the impending storm—he seethed, “If you have the strength to stand, follow me.”

With a racing heart, I struggled to rise. But I couldn’t keep my balance and kept falling to my hands. Finding it impossible to walk, I crawled alongside the wolf as we left the den. Soon, I fell into a rhythm, hand, foot, hand foot, and we seemed to fly across the ground. “You are taking me to my village?” I asked, but the wolf would not answer me. “Or at least to the path so I can find my way?”

“You still believe you can return, do you?” He quickened his stride. “I’m taking you to the only house you’ll ever see again.”

“But you promised me!” I cried, straining my watery muscles to match his pace. “You said you would help me find my way.”

“And so I shall.”

I panted as we ran, the cold air filling my lungs with invigorating breath as a distant lupine howl echoed through the forest, the calls and cries of animals hunting and feasting reminding me of my own hunger.

The wolf glanced back at me. “You will eat soon,” he said.

Was he a diviner as well as a wolf? “What shall I eat?”

He merely growled, and my mind drifted into the realm of fear and speculation about what fate would befall me. Strangely, I felt connected with the woods as my bare hands and feet dug into the soil, the life of the forest seeping into my body, absorbed into my flesh and blood. I knew this place, intimately, as though I had been here before, lived here my entire life. That tree with the hollow, I recognized; that mound of dirt with the sapling struggling to survive the coming winter; that fallen oak, long dead, crooked like a bent elbow. Then I realized I had been here before. Grandmother’s cottage was near.

“Are you taking me to grandmother’s?”

The wolf paused. “Do you know your way from here?”

Instinct drove me, and I bounded off through the trees. I smelled the smoke from her fire, the fresh blood from whatever animals she had killed, their skins prepared for me to take back to the city. “Grandmother!” I cried out. My ears twitched as I heard the door open. I ran towards it, leaping swiftly over the ground. “Grandmother, help! There’s a hungry wolf hunting me,” I cried.

“Dearie!” she called. “Where are you?”

“Here!” I said as she stood in the doorway surrounded by the glow from her fire. The brilliance nearly blinded me, my eyes dilated from the darkness of the forest, and I shook my head. I heard my grandmother’s heart pound as she screamed. The wolf must have been behind me, for grandmother’s curdling cry ripped through the air as she collapsed, clutching her breast, her cap askew, her body convulsing.

“Your…your eyes…and mouth…and…” she croaked.

“Grandmother?” I crouched over her, and her face contorted as though in pain. Or perhaps concern for the way I appeared, disheveled and blackened, my eyes wide with hunger, my ears dirty and bent, my lips pulled back from the dryness of my mouth.

She hissed something unintelligible, holding up her arms to shield her face.

A few moments later, I no longer heard the thud, thump from her chest. I waited for a few moments to see if she would move, and when she didn’t, I slunk into the cottage and searched for food. Finding none, I returned to her body and noticed the wolf peering upon the scene from a distance. “You were not beside me?” I asked.

“Are you still hungry, little girl?” the wolf asked, padding closer, his erect tail swishing.

“Of course, wolf. Grandmother has eaten everything.”

“That wasn’t very considerate of her, now was it?” He sniffed her body, licking his lips. “She is well-fattened, is she not? It would seem such a shame to let it go to waste.” With a snarl, he tore into grandmother, and I recoiled. But as the smell of blood hit my nose, the barrier holding back the animal within me ruptured, and I joined the wolf in his feast. I sunk my teeth into grandmother’s stomach, shredded skin and flesh, pushing my face and mouth into the wound, deeper, deeper, gorging myself. And as the raw meat filled my mouth and the blood of my grandmother slaked my thirst, I lost myself in the thrill of death, embraced the sticky, wet carcass, and the Selva Oscura consumed me. My grandmother’s body stripped down to the bone, her eyes bulging open, her head cocked to the side on a broken neck, I howled into the night, joined by the wolf who reared back his head and wailed away any remnant of our humanity, becoming fully, and completely, animals of the forest.

AJ Cunder graduated from Seton Hall University with a Master’s in Creative Writing after receiving his Bachelor’s in English and Philosophy. His published work includes academic articles in The Oswald Review and Momentum and creative work in Seton Hall’s Literary Magazine Chavez. He is currently working on a co-authored Medieval Literature volume under contract with Routledge as well as numerous other writing projects spanning a variety of genres and forms. He has served as a volunteer fire fighter, a police officer, earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and has advocated for those with disabilities, living with Type I Diabetes himself since the age of seventeen months.

Issue No. 19, Winter 2016

Wind Across the Moon and Sun
Skye Rozario

He stood on a crumbling, terra plateau halfway up the Mount of Points. The day shone with a sullen brilliance as the noon sun bore down on him, on the mountain. He had journeyed many days from his homeland, from her castle, to perform this task. Because she had asked him, because this is what she desired more than all else. He would do anything for her, for his love of her.

The man continued his ascent after yet another rest, trudging slowly on the steep, rocky cliffside, reddened clay tumbling down into cracked, dusty soil. All around, giant rocks protruded from the mountain’s base, trailing up and up to the highest point. The pain in his arms as he heaved himself up over a wall of rock; the burns on his skin, aching and hot like the mountain’s face… And just as the mountain’s face, he carried on, warmed by the sun. He’d timed the day so that he’d reach the topmost point as the sun was setting low. The peaks stretched up to the heavens, breaking the calm skyline—a graceless dash of rock rising from the earth, scattering light on the far off villages in the hills below.

Climbing up the rocky trail even further, his sight wavering in the waves of heat, undulating like peering across a fire, he could discern the massive rock-point rising straight up to the sky: his destination. He had just about arrived to the steppe-top, the summit of the Mount of Points. He now stood where so many stood before him to witness the glory of the intersection of sky and earth, the only place where the sun touched down. But none had carried the purpose he did as he scaled the climbing cliffside.

He would steal the sun. For her.

He gazed out as the sky gradually lost its golden hue and brilliant blue steadily consumed the lighter color. The land beneath him faded and shifted in shadow: grand forests of waving trees, plumes of thin, grey smoke rising in the distance, and dots of villages huddled in valleys and plains. Only he stood here, above, lording over it all in tattered and worn cotton breeches and a faded tan tunic. On his back rested a large knapsack containing all he owned. His face with streaks of earthen red and brown resembled the jagged mount surrounding him. He stared at the descending sun.

She desired it. And he swore to procure it. He’d convinced himself long ago that only she wanted it, not him. Ages past, at the beginning of his quest, he decided that this was for love, that he was selfless and devoted. This was all for her—him for her—and he took joy in believing he’d no choice in the matter, that this had to come to be. He did not need the sun. But neither did she.

The light of day edged closer each moment and the man prepared himself, hands stretching gingerly, growing hotter. Cerulean blue engulfed the land below as the sun met the peak. He reached around, grasping, latching onto the smooth, airy middle of the glowing sphere. He strained, sweating madly, his grip slipping and tightening as the sun condensed smaller and smaller. The air around began to lose some of its luster; a sorrowful cool emanated from the Mount of Points.

At last the sun tore from the zenith, and with a burst of bright blaze, the sky fell indigo and stars shone against the black. The ancient fire had ceased, leaving the hearth of the sky a smoldering sooty backdrop and the heat that scorched from such a vast distance abruptly cleaved, like a sudden slip into frigid waters under a frozen pond.

Now the sun rested on the man’s back, still ice-hot and luminescent. Its size diminished with its departure from the heavens, but it still remained large enough to cause the man to arch his back while curling his arms around the side. His hands pulsed lightly as they slowly heated.

In the distance he could catch confused, desperate cries from the villages, their pleas plucked by the wind and pulled toward him and the sun. He shuffled around, taking one last glance at the world spread out before him. Then he took a heavy step and began the descent.

He knew they would discover him and that they’d be furious. He knew what he had done, and so did they. But he had a duty to his love and he would deliver. So he edged down the rocky path, tears flowing. Indeed, he knew his crime.

As he continued the trek, he no longer knew how long he’d been plodding on, for no day existed to balance the night and all remained encased in a vigil of shadow. What difference now was there in the sky? Did it ever lighten, because how was he to judge the passage of time without the contrast of the sun he bore in his arms and the moon held tightly by the stars. Time passed, but it passed skewed and strained.

Through pathless forests and eerie black-scraped mountains, he traveled night after night, always in the dark, but his darkened form remained lit by the burden he shouldered. He kept to the shadows in the hiding woods which shielded him from the people’s frantic wonderings. All the while though, he could hear them calling out.

“Who took the sun from us?”

“Will the night never cease?”

“It’s much colder now, so much colder…”

The man kept striding toward the castle he left so many days ago, where his love awaited his undeniable return. For he swore to her, he swore.

The sun seemed to lessen as he journeyed, shrinking softly as if evaporating warm, light mist into the air, sorrow perhaps. And when her aged castle rose into view with towering spires and stained glass windows, the sun fit smoothly into his two cupped hands.

A dark wooden door extended above him, curving into a point at the top as he remembered, but the wood seemed chipped, worn. Balancing the sun in one charred hand, he lifted the metal knocker and rapped loudly, sending a swarm of shadowed birds scattering off the roof. As he waited, he rested against the door, breathing heavily, clutching the sun close to his chest for warmth.

The door ached as it yielded to allow him entrance. A strange man bowed before him, face masked and hands thin and shaking. As he entered, the servant seemed to shift and dissipate, misting as he shuffled, gesturing to him what it could be that he desired.

“Take me to the Princess, the Queen. I have her sun.”

The servant shook his foggy head, fading.

“You may enter her chambers. There she awaits,” the servant replied, drifting off into some dark corner of the entryway, which lay covered in airy dust.

Shafts of moonlight splayed across the ruddy marble floor and the tattered carpets leading to rooms and passages. The man followed behind the servant, who seemed perhaps a spirit, long dead. The man questioned how long his journey had taken him.

The man shivered and held the sun closer. In front of him were the elegant doors to the Princess’s chambers, carved designs spiraled and twisted around the outside edge, the detail faded and softened, bits broken.

Like one last, dying breath, the servant drew open the door, and after the man entered, somehow the servant no longer held a presence, as if his only remaining duty was to direct him to the princess.

Inside, the Princess rested on a large, jeweled chair toward the right of the room. Stained glass windows lay shattered around her floor, leaving no colored filter for the moonlight streaming in. He fought the urge to drop her sun to the cold marble.

The Princess wore a matted gown, now decorated dazzlingly with cobwebs and dust and broken glass where before there had been lace and gems. Her head tilted slightly, leaning against her left arm, which was propped on the armrest of her throne, as if she tired of waiting. The man pressed the sun to his chest, tears pouring, blurring the grotesque scene of his beloved turned to bones. Her hollow gaze bore into him as he cried, sending more birds flying out of the high ceiling through holes in the roof.

For her he deprived the world of its light. For her he spent his time traveling away. How long had he quested? He ached to know, listening to the sizzle and hiss of smoke as his tears evaporated upon hitting the sun. He still had to give it to her. He procured it for her, hadn’t her? He’d given all for the sun. This glowing sun.

The man rose with the sun and gingerly hobbled over to where she sat, still waiting. Lifting the sphere, he held it out and pressed it to her chest, where it slid and sputtered then rested among her ribs, protected as some odd replacement for her dead heart. Then he moved back and wilted to the icy marble. Exhausted, he remained in and out of consciousness as the night drew on and on. For the sun would never rise again.

As he drifted between sleep and wakefulness, the Night flowed into the decrepit chamber through the cracked window, surrounding the Princess’s throne and peering through smoky mist at the radiant but faded sun in the Princess. The man shook awake and started as if seeing for the first time, the bones his hands had become. Part of him was always like her.

Night circled and swirled, a cloud of indigo and sparks of stars, at once filling up the room and taking up little space. The man gazed at Night who gazed back through eyes of stars.

“This is mine now. I will have this now.”

The man focused on the dark cloud as it made to pluck the sun from the Princess’s bones, but began to cry again as Night lifted her whole body along with the glowing orb instead.

“Don’t take her, please! I love her. I love the sun!” he called, dashing up to the window.

The Night hovered outside the window, part of the mist extending back up to the heavens with the rest of the sky. Night stared deeply at the man, then lifted and spread out against the sky, departing with the man’s love, a glowing beacon in the air.

The man watched as the Night held her up and brought her into the swirling shroud of the dark sky. He watched a light stream, pouring forth from the sky, at first formless and then rounded. Night placed the milky white sphere next to the shining moon.

“Second Moon, small moon,” whispered the moon, “We shall light the villages, Second Moon; We shall calm their fears, small moon.”

Second Moon glowed next to the larger moon and the land was at once brighter. The man peered up from the forsaken castle at his love, Second Moon, away from him. And he, with skeleton hands, remained alive, alone, the one who stole the sun.

He fell to the floor, unable to comfort himself or wipe his face with aching bone hands. He curled around the floor, pleading:

“Oh Night, oh kind Night. Let me be near her, my love. Leave me not. I am alone… Oh, Night, I am alone!”

And the Night heard his plea; the stars blinked sparkling droplets into the dusk. The moon spoke sweetly to Second Moon, a sister, a child.

Night bent down, a thick blue mist, and circled ‘round the man’s form, calming him. The Night kept silent, but the man felt comfort nonetheless. Night held him, gently pulling him into the mist, muffling his sobs into silence.

“This one shall not be alone. This is mine now. I will have this now.”

The wind blew a gust through the window as the Night lifted into the sky to rejoin Night’s own self. The man’s body no longer held a presence within the starlit sky. Instead, he glided and flew atop the trees, through the grasses and villages as the Night Wind. He soared up and around Second Moon, calling to her, speaking to her with First Moon. He, the Night Wind.

And the people stared and spoke about the new moon, asking,

“What does this mean?”

“Will the sun ever return?”

To which the Night answered the people, and the first moon answered, and the Night Wind answered:

“We shall protect you. The Night shall keep you and you shall keep the Night. Second Moon, little moon, will shine for you and Night Wind will bring the rain and the warmth with him. The Night shall protect you.”

And the people returned to their houses and lit their fires. They offered thanks to the Night and wept for the sun and prayed to the heavens above them. The day would not return and they knew this. As did the moons and the wind. But they would be the ones to watch the earth now.

“This is mine now,” said the Night, “This sun is mine now.”

The Night Wind blew high above, circling Second Moon and trailing back down to the towns and twisting the smoke into the stars. He no longer was alone.

And the earth could go on such as this. Safe and shadowed, with a comforting glow of light. The Night Wind continued his journey, blustering about the cerulean. The second moon continued to glow. Night stretched a gentle smile across the sky, for Night would guard them. Night would be the day as well. Night would be both.

And the Mount of Points loomed in the distance, a reminder of the sun, of what was lost. But the second moon would remain a reminder of what was given, what was bequeathed unto the earth by the Night: a shining promise, circled endlessly by the loving wind of night.

Skye Rozario is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She is double majoring in English and Humanities with a minor in Creative Writing.

Issue No. 19, Winter 2016

The Mooneaters
Bradley Sides

It was to end under a tree. It was what they wanted. They nestled in the darkness, mother and son, clinging to the belief that they could—no would—change. She had promised him. He had promised her. Both had remained true. They were determined to keep something, and their word was now the only thing left.




The mother and son’s tiny house stood deep inside what they knew only as “the woods.” Their small construction, if you could really call it such, was fine for them. The walls were sturdy, and the floor kept most cold drafts outside. Two windows, one facing the east and the other looking west, were broken, but old, unhinged pieces of tape kept what needed to stay away outside. The roof, even with its splintered cracks, only let in a few snowflakes. The candles they burned rested on the floor, and the flames never grew strong enough to grow light past a couple of feet. The darkness is what kept them safe. Light was dangerous. What needed to stay out did. Or, at least, it had.

Inside, the boy sat on the dusty oak floor and colored the torn pages from an old coloring book. Frogs, his mother had told him. Once, they lived near water. He whispered the croaking sound she’d made when describing the strange creatures’ voices. He’d never seen animals, but his mother promised that they were, at one time, as real as real could be—as real as mother and son.

The mother sat beside her son and reminded him to stay inside the heavy lines. He listened and obeyed.

“Am I the only good kid?” the boy asked, looking up at his mother.

“You are,” she assured him, cradling his cheeks with her hands.

“Are you the only good mommy?” he asked.

“I am,” she replied, squeezing his face before turning away to cough into her handkerchief.

When she looked down, she saw that it was still there. She had hoped that it was only a fluke the day before. A glitch with her eyes the week earlier. A brief slide into madness. A dream. A nightmare. She couldn’t remember when it had begun. Why did it matter? There was no arguing that it was here.

The brightness of what had come from inside her was unusual, upsetting. In a world where darkness provided protection, the shining, glowing tint had to affect her. She had remembered her own mother’s sickness, and this, she remembered, was how it had begun. Like mother, like daughter.

“Mommy, are you sick?” the boy asked.

“I’m fine. It’s just a little cough. Pay attention to your coloring. You don’t want to go outside the lines,” she said.

The boy ignored his mother’s instructions. Even if she had raised him, he still held a part of his father inside him. Still innocent, but she could see his stubbornness growing. He put down his crayon and stood, glaring at his mother’s ear.

She looked up at her son, watching his eyes, as they scanned the side of her face.

“You have something on you,” he said, reaching out his hand.

“You have something on you,” he repeated.

The mother caressed the side of her face with her hand, slowly brushing up and down.

“It’s nothing, son.” She frantically tucked her stray hairs behind her ear.

The boy, again, paid no attention to his mother. He reached down and hesitantly touched her face. It was the first time he’d touched her this way. She could feel his fear, and she scooted away from him.

“Mommy, you have something on you,” he said in a concerned voice, reaching toward her now with more confidence.

He bent down and grabbed the unusual growth from the side of his mother’s face and began to caress it. “It’s soft, Mommy,” he said. “It’s almost like your hair.”

The boy’s touch transitioned into a slow stroking movement. He bit his lip curiously as he felt of his mother’s newfound strangeness. His world wasn’t one that was familiar with softness. Suddenly, as if struck with the epiphany that the object did not belong on his mother’s face, he pulled on the growth. It didn’t budge, but, being his father’s son, he kept pulling—yanking, tugging.

“Stop! Stop!” she cried.

“It’s stuck to you, Mommy,” he said. “I have to get it, Mommy!”

“Please stop!” she pleaded.

She cried louder, but the boy didn’t stop.

He gripped what grew on his mother’s face again, and he pulled with all of his might, heaving and grunting. Sweat ran down her clenched face. The wetness caused the boy to refocus his grip. His tiny hands fumbling near her ear.

The mother sobbed. Her lips, pressed firmly together, trembled. Was it the pain? Was it the fear of already knowing?

Finally, it broke free, and the boy and mother watched it float to the ground.

The object rested on the cold floor. The boy stood over it, questioning what it could be. The coloring was unusual. Matte. Nearly opaque. But somehow reminiscent of the candle’s struggling flame. The shape odder than anything he could recall ever seeing. Then, it struck him.

“Mommy, is that a leaf?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No,” she said quietly. “It’s called a feather.”

“What’s a feather?” he asked.

The mother opened her mouth to tell him about birds, but just as the first word hit the tip of her lips, a light appeared at the hidden house’s door.

“The mooneaters,” she whispered, clutching her son by his arm.




For him, there was no before. The boy had never lived in a world free of the mooneaters. The stories his mother told him haunted his dreams. In those stories, she couldn’t remember the year or the season and she couldn’t quite recall how that they began. She only knew that they were. And, really, that was all anyone needed to know.

She recounted how the mooneaters, shoulder-on-shoulder, climbed on top of one another, reaching high enough to pull away the stars. Together, these trees of mooneaters swayed like fractured limbs battling the wind. Trees top heavy and certain to crash to the ground. She described the mooneaters with their long, dirty, and bony fingers. Their disgusting hands extending into the sky and pinching the stars out of place. Feverishly and ferociously, growling and howling, they ate them. Night after night, they, these mooneaters, ate the stars. Their bellies glowed. The mooneaters would fight one another to stand at the summit of each pile, where one of them would grab a star from the dying sky and toss it below. The tall group of beings would collapse, chasing after the helpless star. After it was gulped away, the towers would reform, with greedy hands and reckless feet trying to make their way to the top once again. The madness would soon recommence, as another star was flung below.

After some time, and after all of the stars, and, yes, the moon, which was the last to go, were gone, the mooneaters were the only light left except for the stray ember or candle flame. They were full, but not content—of course. Not the mooneaters. They began eating one another. Addicted to the glow the other bodies carried.

People were quick to join the mooneaters. People needed light. They said they couldn’t live without it. Their crops would die. Their animals would be next. What about their kids? I have to be a mooneater to save my family, they reasoned. That’s how the conversion began. Justifiable reasoning.

People who hadn’t even participated in the destruction of the stars and moon wanted the glow. They, just like the ones already in possession of luminescent bodies, ripped into the others. They were all the same. Even if it took a few extra days or weeks, they were mooneaters, nonetheless.

The mooneaters became so eager for any resemblance of a glow that they chased down those who didn’t have a trace of the moon or a star in their bellies. The whites of the eyes was enough.

The mother told her son how she’d watched boys his age abandon their own mothers to join the mooneaters. One boy—in a memory she would never forget—kicked his mother in the chin because she was trying to hold him back from joining the mooneaters. He kicked so hard that the mother lost her grip. The boy, who couldn’t have been over the age of ten, took off running toward a group of mooneaters. With a knife, he sliced open one of their bellies and removed a star. Just as he put it to his lips, another mooneater ripped the boy apart, placing the star into an already lit body. She could do nothing but cry. In her story, the mother didn’t tell the boy everything. She didn’t want him to know how the other mother, broken with loss or, perhaps, hungry for her own glow, walked into the circle of mooneaters and met the same fate as the little boy.

In the darkness, the mother blamed the mooneaters.

The mooneaters were the reason she couldn’t go outside with her son.

The mooneaters were the selfish ones who killed all of the animals.

The mooneaters were the cause for everyone the mother had ever loved being gone.

The mooneaters were…




The mother and son stood motionless. The feather was before them, and it twitched softly against the floorboards. The candle flame casted a small, billowy shadow, which neared the wall. Neither person paid the unusual object any attention. Not with the mooneaters being present. The mother’s hand slid carefully and quietly down her son’s arm, as her grip loosened. She wanted his hand, and she moved until she grasped it.

The boy had held his mother’s hands every day of his life. He knew her crevices. He recognized her calluses. What he felt was different now. Her hands were prickly—ticklish.

His eyes glanced to the place where their hands met, and he saw the blurry edges of the budding fibers under the shadows.

More feathers. They were covering her hands.

She coughed again.

He closed his eyes and held firmly.

She knew the woods. After all of these years, she still could place every tree and every stream. She had told herself that she couldn’t forget them. If the mooneaters ever came, she, and she alone, would have to remember. And here they were.

The mother and son watched the brightness build around them. At first the light was only near the entrance. The gleaming bodies shone through even the smallest of cracks between the wooden door and the floor. Even along the walls, the previously unknown fractured lines in the paneling became clear.

The boy, being unacquainted with such brightness, closed his eyes and turned his head to the still dark corner behind him. The intensity from the light caused tears to fall down his face.

“It’s okay,” the mother whispered as soft as she could, falsely believing that her son was crying from fear.

The boy couldn’t understand what she was saying, but he knew her words were kind.

The light’s intensity continued to grow from the outside. The mother remembered long before the mooneaters. She would sit on the grass and look up at the sky. Her favorite memories were when the moon shone so brightly that none of the stars could be seen. The moon, being so seemingly alone, managed to be beautiful and strong.

The door that stood before her reminded her of those nights.

Instead of the surmounting brightness adding more fear, the mother felt more focused—more aware of what she had to do.

“Blow out the candle, Son,” she said without even the faintest trace of quietness.

Without hesitating, he bent down and blew just as the door came down.




Her own mother’s sickness had appeared suddenly. A doctor couldn’t have helped. She’d simply reached her end.

She’d resisted the mooneaters. She, like her daughter, was one of the pure. When the coughing came with the splattering of blood and the feathers sprouting on her cracked, dry skin, she cried.

Her tears fell not because she was scared, which she was not. They dampened her cheeks because she knew it was finally over.

She could bask in the light once again.

She could roam the forests without a care.

She could fly away to a land absent of the mooneaters.

Just as the last feather sprang from the only unopened pore on her skin, she rose from her bed and transformed. Changed into something new—something better, something free.

A mooneater broke into her bedroom and stood still, observing the unusual creature that flew around the room. This wasn’t what the mooneater had expected to find.

The bird’s white feathers beat the air rapidly and spun, looking as if it—she—were a shooting star. The mooneater salivated and patted its hands. It shook with glee.

The bird flew around the room, singing loudly and beautifully. The melody carried out through the small house and up into the nearby woods. Snow that had clung to the branches fell to the ground. The bubbling water in the nearby streams went quiet.

Then, the bird burst through the window and out into the open.

The mooneater ran toward the shattered glass, maniacally flailing its arms. But there was no use.

The bird was free.




The mother and her son had heard the mooneaters break down the door, and they could hear the dirty feet rumbling against the hard oak. The mother yanked at her son’s arm. “Come. Come,” she whispered. “We have to leave now. They’ll rip us apart.”

She coughed and spit onto the floor.

The boy could feel her phlegm ricochet against his arm.

In the darkness, he looked for his mother’s eyes. This must be what it’s like to be a mooneater, he thought. To search and search for that whiteness—for that light.

He stood still and stared toward the direction from which her words came. The boy could hear her. He could feel her hands pulling at his skin. He wanted to see her.

Her coughing continued. Now, worse than before.

She struggled to find air. Her breaths came rapidly and she fought and fought against herself until all that was left was a soft gurgle.

Then, just as she went quiet, the boy’s wish was granted. He could see his mother—his newly transformed mother.

One of the mooneaters stood before him, glowing like what he imagined the moon must’ve looked like.

Oh, how the stories of the old nighttime sky had thrilled him.

The stars.

The constellations.

Of course, the moon.

But, those small pleasures were gone from the boy’s world, and it was the mooneaters who had taken them.

The mother, covered in majestic white plumes, twirled in the air.

The boy watched in awe.

She whistled and chirped loudly, calling her son to follow her, and he did.

As she dived over one mooneater and tumbled below another, the boy did the same. The giant claws tore at his skin, and their fists pounded into his young skin. Their glowing, rotund bellies swayed in the place that he had always known as home.

His feet never stopped moving. Not even after they hit the grass.

He ran after his mother as she led him deep into the dark forest.




It was to end under a tree. It was what they wanted. They nestled in the darkness, mother and son, clinging to the belief that they could—no would—change. She had promised him. He had promised her. Both had remained true. They were determined to keep something, and their word was now the only thing left.

The howls came from behind them. The mooneaters would never stop.

The boy didn’t have any feathers. Not yet.

So, she did what any loving mother would do: she dived into him and knocked him onto the cold ground. Her sharp beak plunged into his skin. She flew up to the lowest branch and rested. Then, she flew into him again. He didn’t make a sound. The feathers were coming.

The mooneaters would be too late.

Bradley Sides is a writer and English instructor. His work appears at Electric Literature, Fiction Southeast, The Lit Pub, Literary Orphans, The Rumpus, Toasted Cheese, and elsewhere. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his first collection of short stories.

Issue No. 19, Winter 2016

Ghost Town
Justine Arinda Johnson

Krista Ahlberg grew up in Colorado, spent a few years in the Midwest, and now lives in New York City. She enjoys fairy tales, peppermint tea, and falling in love with (fictional) monsters.

M. J. Arlett is an MFA candidate at Florida International University where she is the nonfiction editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. She was born in the UK, spent several years in Spain and now lives in Miami. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Poet Lore, Mud Season Review, Tinderbox Poetry Review and elsewhere.

Ruth Asch is a poet, in the rare moments she can run away and seek inspiration. She is also a mother, and sometimes a teacher. She writes in many different styles and enjoys attempting the impossible – poetry translation from other languages. There is a book of her early poems in print: Reflections (St. Austin Press 2009), and she has been published in many literary journals since. (Clusters of her work can be found online at Peacock Journal, Mediterranean Poetry, Classical Poets, Poetry Atlas, Bamboo and elsewhere.)

Lisa Bren is a Pacific Northwesterner who drinks caramel lattes, wears wool sweaters, and thoroughly enjoys the ashy smell of campfires. Lisa is currently studying creative writing at Central Washington University.

In the last year Mark C. Childs has published 17 poems in 11 different magazines. Mark is the author of the award-winning books The Zeon Files: the art and design of historic Route 66 signs; Urban Composition; and Squares: a public place design guide. He is also the author of Composing Speculative Cities (Analog 2016), a newspaper series, and numerous academic urban design articles. He is a Fulbright Scholar and was on MIT’s international tiddly-winks team.

AJ Cunder graduated from Seton Hall University with a Master’s in Creative Writing after receiving his Bachelor’s in English and Philosophy. His published work includes academic articles in The Oswald Review and Momentum and creative work in Seton Hall’s Literary Magazine Chavez. He is currently working on a co-authored Medieval Literature volume under contract with Routledge as well as numerous other writing projects spanning a variety of genres and forms. He has served as a volunteer fire fighter, a police officer, earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and has advocated for those with disabilities, living with Type I Diabetes himself since the age of seventeen months.

Merridawn Duckler is a poet, playwright from Portland, Oregon. Recent poetry in TAB: Journal of Poetry and Poetics (best of the web nomination), International Psychoanalysis, Otis Nebula, Rogue Agent, The Offing, Unbroken Journal, forthcoming from Blue Lyra, Free State Review, Yellow Chair Review, Crab Creek Review, Literary Orphan, Birds Piled Loosely, TXTOBJX, inter/rupture. She was runner-up for the poetry residency at the Arizona Poetry Center, judged by Farid Matuk, and a finalist at Center for Book Arts and Tupelo Press. Recent prose in Poetica and humor in Defenestration. Finalist for the 2016 Sozoplo Fiction Fellowship. Awards include Writers@Work, NEA, Yaddo, Squaw Valley, SLS in St. Petersburg, Russia, Southampton Poetry Conference with Billy Collins, others. She’s an editor at Narrative and the international philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a painter and poet inspired by myth and folklore, lupine and quartz. She lives in Florida with her husband and son. More of her work can be seen at

Kim Hambright is a Florida-based poet currently pursuing an MFA with Chatham University. She enjoys blogging for The Fourth River and collecting fabulous SEE Eyewear. Her work can be found in the “Home” issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing.

Dah Helmer’s fourth poetry collection is The Translator from Transcendent Zero Press. His first three books are from Stillpoint Books. Dah’s poetry has been published by editors from the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, China, the Philippines, Spain, Australia,and India. His poems recently appeared in Straylight Magazine, River & South Review, The Cape Rock, Acumen Journal, Sandy River Review, Indian River Review, and The Linnet’s Wings. Dah lives in Berkeley, California where he is working on the manuscripts for his fifth and sixth poetry books. Harbinger Asylum Magazine has nominated Dah’s poem “Some god” for the Pushcart Prize.

Jessica Jernigan is a writer, editor, and student living and working in Central Michigan. Her writing has appeared in Bitch, Web Conjunctions, Maximum Middle Age, and The Women’s Review of Books.

Justine Arinda Johnson is a young artist currently living in New York City. This summer she was part of an art residency in Kingman, Arizona, during which time she produced a large body of work inspired by the ghost towns off route 66. She is currently writing a novel about this experience, entitled Arizona Royalty.

Sandi Leibowitz is a school librarian and classical singer who writes speculative fiction and poetry. Her works appear in Mythic Delirium, Metaphorosis, Liminality, Polu Texni and other print and online magazines and anthologies. Her poems have been nominated for the Rhysling, Dwarf Star, Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net awards, and have appeared in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 5 and editors’ lists of recommended reading. She lives in a raven’s wood, next door to bogles—in the middle of New York City.

For three and a half decades Katharyn Howd Machan, picking up where Rod Serling left off, has taught creative writing at Ithaca College in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Her specialty courses, besides in poetry, are Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, Women and Fairy Tales, and first-year seminars called Fairy Tales: The Hero’s Journey. Her poems have appeared in 32 published collections (most recently WILD GRAPES: POEMS OF FOX [a kitsune shape-shifter]) and many magazines, anthologies, and textbooks.

Matt Morris has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, such as DMQ, 88, Hunger Mountain, New York Quarterly, Runes, and Utter. He has received multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize as well as Best of the Net. Nearing Narcoma, his first book, won the Main Street Rag Poetry Award. Knut House Press recently released his latest collection, Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand.

Louisa Muniz is a freelance writer and a reading/writing tutor. She lives in Sayreville, NJ. She is a recent retired reading specialist and takes pride in having been a National Board Certified teacher who traveled to China to learn about their educational system. She has a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Kean University. Her work is forthcoming in Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She is currently working on her first poetry chapbook.

Nahida S. Nisa writes about disruption. Her short stories explore power dynamics, upheavals, and the ramifications of trauma on human lives, problematizing the circumstances in which individuals are situated. They suggest unexpected resolutions. “Sometimes a Raincloud” is an homage to the subversive powers of magical realism. Nahida lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, as a settler on Ohlone land.

Allison Parker is a writer and English instructor living in Wilmington, NC. She graduated with an MFA in poetry in 2002 from UNCW. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry East, Cobalt, Fjords, Lilies and Cannonballs, The Oklahoma Review, Scissors and Spackle, A Sharp Piece of Awesome, and The Lyricist. She currently performs with the sound art troupe 910 Noise.

Skye Rozario is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She is double majoring in English and Humanities with a minor in Creative Writing.

Nora Shychuk grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania before she hopped across the pond and earned her MA in Creative Writing from University College Cork in Ireland. Her work has appeared in The Quarryman Literary Journal, The Rose Magazine, and The Lonely Crowd. More of her work can be found at

Bradley Sides is a writer and English instructor. His work appears at Electric Literature, Fiction Southeast, The Lit Pub, Literary Orphans, The Rumpus, Toasted Cheese, and elsewhere. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his first collection of short stories.

Arizona Bedroom
Justine Arinda Johnson